When it was recently accounted the the creative force behind the Smashing Pumpkins, frontman Billy Corgan, had joined the ranks of TNA Entertainment, it was a move that certainly turned some heads. However, to long-time fans of the sport, it came as little surprise as charismatic frontman and life-long wrestling fan had even founded his own promotion, Chicago-based Resistance Pro, in 2011. Corgan’s new position at TNA Wrestling as Senior Producer, Creative and Talent Development, will see him develop characters and create story lines for TNA’s flagship program IMPACT WRESTLING, as well as other TNA programming. Offering creative freedom, it is clearly a position any fan of sports entertainment would love to be in. He is fully committed to not only bring his A-game to the position but to change the very culture of the promotion — a tall order, for sure, but one he has devoted himself to fully to make a reality.
He is not alone in this venture as he joins a gifted group of creative writers led by TNA Executive Vice President of Television and Talent John Gaburick. In addition to partnering with his creative colleagues in writing compelling and emotionally engaging story lines for TNA programming, Corgan will attend TNA television tapings where he will serve as a senior producer, working with TNA’s roster of world-class athletes including veterans such as TNA World Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy and Gail Kim, as well as a fresh crop of Superstars led by Ethan Carter III, Bram, Rockstar Spud and more. TNA programming, which features unparalleled professional wrestling entertainment through its innovative high-flying X-Division, the best women’s division on the planet in the TNA Knockouts, and incomparable Tag Team action, is seen by millions of viewers each week in more than 120 countries around the world.
Icon Vs. Icon took part in an eye-opening chat with Billy Corgan about his new creative role in TNA Wrestling, the parallels of professional wrestling and music business, what he brings to the table with his years of experience as the creative force behind Smashing Pumpkins and much more!
What hooked you when it comes to the world of professional wrestling?
I lived with my great-grandmother when I was very little and I remember her and my grandfather watching wrestling in the house. They would watch professional wrestling, roller derby and hockey, which, back then, had a lot of fights! [laughs] There was a lot of that when I was a little kid. On my own, I gravitated toward the Bob Luce promotion in Chicago, which was a very interesting situation in that you had AWA talent coming down from Minnesota and you had Dick The Brusier out of Indiana with his promotion coming over. You had these super cards, which, as a little kid, was something I didn’t realize. I saw a lot of these men in their prime in angles and storylines that none of the rest of the country saw. I would see The Crusher Vs. Gagne when I was 6 or 7 years old. Yeah, they may have been towards the end of their careers but they were still very much in their prime as far as how they got over. That formed a lot of my thinking as what makes sense on a fundamental level about wrestling and I think those tenants don’t change no matter what the era is. The question for me always is, “Can you update those bedrock philosophical points into the future model?” Which is similar with what I have to do with music. I mean, I learned rock ‘n’ roll from the Beatles, The Stones and The Who but I have had to update those principles into the modern world and I think that is a fun challenge to take on!
What can you tell us about how you became involved with TNA Wrestling?
I think if there is any timeline genesis, beyond me having a personal relationship with Dixie [Carter] that goes back seven or eight years, it would be when I pitched her on an idea to combine what I was looking to do with Resistance Pro and maybe there was some sort of intersection that might help TNA and we could partner up. She didn’t feel that was a good fit at the time. That was totally OK and I went in a different direction and went with AMC which took a lot longer. That gives you some timeline as to when I talked to Dixie and it was in its infancy. She was one of the first people I talked to because I obviously wanted her feedback because she has been good like that for me as well. As far as this particular timeline, I came back off tour and hadn’t realized she had been messaging me. I have to change my number fairly regularly because of fan-type stuff. She had been messing with me on Twitter with little sad faces like, “Why won’t you call me back?” Because I hadn’t seen the messages. [laughs] I called her up and we had a conversation. She basically said, “How would you like to come in on creative.” I pinched myself and said, “Yeah! I would love the opportunity.” I flew down to Nashville and, an hour later, I was sitting in booking meetings and we were going at it! I felt at home the moment I walked through the doors. I had been in the offices before and I know a lot of people at the company, so I really felt like I was at home walking through those doors. Nothing that has happened since then has changed my mind on that!
What do you bring to the table with this new position at TNA?
Overall, I feel I have an asymmetrical approach to brand building that, given my time in the music industry and subsequently branching into other areas of entertainment, including my Teahouse brand, I think I have a pretty good pulse on how to work in this weird space which we are all trying to figure out which is: “What is reality and the public space of ideas and symbolism.” I feel wrestling is still trying to get up to speed with the modern era in the way that it is moving. I feel I can bring some of those new strategies to reposition the company in people’s minds. On a day-to-day level, I am just bringing my perspective on how TNA can rebrand itself as a wrestling first company. There seems to be a lot of energy within the company for that. I would say that if there is any priority it is carving out a singular identity for TNA in the marketplace so that when people think of TNA, they think of TNA stars and TNA’s product as being on its own. Obviously, TNA is part of the long great history of wrestling but, at the same time, we want to focus on TNA first type programming, which would reinforce why you would want to watch TNA as opposed to someone else’s product.
Right now, I am spending about 60 hours a week on TNA. [laughs] It is driving my friends here in the studio a little crazy. Literally, I am doing one hour with music before running to take a telephone call or working with creative with what is happening. I am still working out those balances. It is certainly a full-time vocation. Like any creative person, it is always spinning in my mind, how to make the product better. It is a difficult balance. I have to be enough in the company that I am not coming in and picking things apart, particular movements. I use the analogy that cultures are like battleships and I know this from Smashing Pumpkins culture. It is not always easy to flip one switch and expect everything to change. If you don’t understand the thinking behind the decision making, it is very easy to criticize, but you might not understand that someone is injured or a contract might be up and they don’t want to go in a particular direction because it makes sense. I feel I have to be enough in the foundational culture, which we are working that out on a day-to-day, where I am more in on a foundational level than being an outsider. Is there a downside where maybe I get too inside the company’s thinking? Absolutely. However, I think I am very used to thinking outside of the box in my own musical life. I am not a big believer in cheap heat. I think things take a lot of time to develop properly. Certainly, building the Smashing Pumpkins starship has taken a long time to even be up to speed with the world we live in today.
You spent the better part of your life in the music industry. Now that you are involved with wrestling and have a bit of history with it, what are some of the biggest parallels between the two?
That is a great question. What I would say to it is, like any company where you have a lot of moving parts, it is easy and not personal that sometimes particular talents get overlooked or set aside because of a particular direction that is happening. I have been in that situation at a label where I had come off a massive success but suddenly there is a regime change and they want to take the company in a different direction. Suddenly, I am appealing to someone who doesn’t understand my vision and what I feel made me successful. I think that you see a lot of that in the wrestling business. There are unhappy people everywhere because they don’t feel like they are getting their push or a chance to shine. Look, every locker room there are good apples and bad apples. The question is, “Can you create a talent relationship?” This is something I hope to do and what I did in Resistance Pro. Can you create a talent relationship where you try to take into account everybody’s concerns and abilities? Part of that, of course, is proper scouting, proper observation of where people are in their careers and even in their head can you turn around and bring that to the benefit of not only them but the company. I don’t think it is any different then when you have a baseball team that has a lot of talent. They might bring in a new manager and that person sort of changes the culture just enough. I am not complaining about TNA culture. I think it is a good culture but can I add to that where talent may feel a different opportunity be worth pursuing or focusing on someone who may have been overlooked or not seen in a particular light might get a different opportunity. I hope to provide those opportunities.
What are you thoughts on the use of music in wrestling?
A lot of times, I think that the music in any promotion falls into very obvious things, such as a guy coming out to a metal song. It sounds like ubiquitous Alice In Chains or something. Obviously, as a musician, I am not a big fan of that. I think, just like a movie soundtrack, a counter piece of music can tell some amazing stories. I think back to the Pride MMA promotion out of Japan and I remember Emelianenko coming out for a match one time. They had falling snow with soft piano music. It was incredible! It gave me goosebumps! It made me want to see something in this fight and brought out this epic aspect of this character, when he was still very much on top, that some jarhead metal song wouldn’t have done. To answer the question more fully, the question is, “Can we look at those things in a different way?” We did some of that in Resistance Pro with Starry as the artist, Sherry Shaw, who did the music with her partner. We were doing things that were really unexpected. Believe it or not, we got some pushback from the wrestlers because they were kind of used to these jarhead metal themes. They felt like, “This doesn’t bring me enough energy.” You have seen, for example, with other gimmicks a different song can really define a character before they even make one move to the ring or even open their mouths. I hope to bring a greater level of sophistication. It is not a complaint, I would just hope to add to that picture.
What is one of the biggest elements that can be improved on across the board?
Here is one thing I see anybody, any company in the world, truly using social media to its greatest advantage vis-a-vis how to get wrestlers and angles over. I think there is still a great struggle in the wrestling business on how to properly use it. I will give you a perfect example. If you go to most wrestlers Twitter, no matter the company they work for, they might be tweeting pictures of their cats but they are supposed to be a heel! That does cause a level of confusion in the marketplace. Should an individual talent have a separate account that is solely their gimmick account so that everything they tweet or put up on Facebook from those accounts are consistent with their character? Or do we want a basic work/shoot feel where they are this in the ring but I am this in my real life? Can we apply both theories and somehow gain just as much as if we watched a movie star behind the scenes and we go to see the movie and understand there is a suspension of disbelief. I have yet to see anybody get it right. I think there is a great opportunity there for TNA to come in with a greater level of sophistication to tell stories. Obviously, there has been some effort in that regard but I have yet to see it fully realized. When we say TV these days, there is a destination network, no pun intended, that we want everyone watching every Friday. That said, the quickest way to get them there is through the internet. Why are we not using internet as an addendum to television the way that television both supports itself in the social media and traditional media. I feel that has still not been done right by anybody. I think you have to make a philosophical decision and then you have to amplify that decision. I see this with my fans. I am going to use the wrestling term. There are smart mark Smashing Pumpkins fans who think they know everything about me but the percentage of smart mark fans in my world is probably very similar to the percentage of smart mark fans in the wrestling world. It is a minority. Most of the people watching are watching products very casually. Do they need assistance to further invest in storylines and character or do we want them investing in the personal story behind the person? For example, “Here is the photo I took today when I was training. Here is me hanging out with my dog. Here is me hanging out with my girlfriend. Here is me getting married.” Does that help or hurt? Again, I think you have to make a philosophical decision and go down that particular road harder than it has been gone down before.
How does the way you evolved as a writer in Smashing Pumpkins through the years translate to what you will do today for TNA?
The lesson I have learned is you always have to write for where you are today. Where that would apply with TNA is you have to find the storylines and ideas that will resonate with the audience today. Everybody has their sentimental idea of what works for wrestling. I thought it was fascinating when Paul Heyman talked about how he almost came to TNA and how he would have taken the product in a more MMA direction because he felt some of the greatest stories were being told in MMA and he was going to try and emulate that. I think that is a very good example of how you can update your thinking into a form that is working. Going back to the Pumpkins part of the question, you always have to know who you are. I think, at times, TNA has struggled to know who they are through the different regimes. In talking to Dixie at great lengths on these subjects, I feel my job is to understand her vision. It is very interesting because she does have a very particular vision. A lot of times when it looks like things aren’t going in the right direction, it has been more that the people who have come in didn’t fulfill the promise of maybe what they were offering or what she thought they were offering. Part of my effort here is to really get on the same page of what she is looking at from a business model on down, so that we can represent it in a very active way. I feel really lucky in this regard because, coming back with the Pumpkins, I had some naive assumptions in 2007. I thought I could just pick up where I left off. That is not how it has worked! I had to adjust as I went. I had to deal with an aging audience, people’s sentimental ideas about what kind of music I should do and figure out how to create new opportunities for myself in the marketplace. In many ways, I have created new opportunities for myself by going outside the box to places where people think you shouldn’t go. Being a part of wrestling is one of those. I have been heavily criticized in the music world for being involved in professional wrestling. I refuse to give that position up, partially because I think my role in my musical culture is to be independent. How can I be truly independent if I don’t represent who I truly am? If I have to hide certain parts of myself to get over with my musical crowd, then I am really not myself. Having had those experiences, I am a staunch defender of the idea that the stronger the identity that TNA can build from the outside, the harder it will be for us to move forward in the marketplace with strength and courage. I think that is what you need to do. You need to take chances.
TNA’s IMPACT Wrestling airs Fridays at 9 PM on Destination America. Get all the latest news and information from TNA Wrestling at www.impactwrestling.com.
Smashing Pumpkins are preparing to hit the road with Marilyn Manson on the “End Times” tour – set to begin July 7th. Visit the band’s official site at www.smashingpumpkins.com for the latest tour dates.